Thursday, June 19, 2008

Win It For... (Part III)

...Brad Lohaus.

...Chris Corchiani.

...Dana Barros.

...Ed Pinckney.

...Dave Gavitt.

...Rick Pinito.

...DeCovan Brown.

...and (summer league signee in 2002) Oliver Miller.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Win It For... (Part II)

...Pervis Ellison.

...Ricky Davis.

...Alaa Abdelnaby.

...Marcus Banks.

...Mark Blount.

...James Blackwell.

...Eric Montross.

...Alton Lister.

...Andrew DeClercq.

...Travis Knight.

...Ron Mercer.

Win It For...

One of the most authentic elements of the Red Sox run to the 2004 World Series title was a thread posted on Sons of Sam Horn, entitled it simply "Win It For..."

SoSH readers then contributed there own stories -- of grandfathers, brothers, friends -- who were life-long Red Sox fans and who, in many cases, were not living at the time the Sox appeared to be ready to win the long-awaited title. (Former Sox players, like Johnny Pesky, still alive then and now, and Ted Williams, not, were also featured.)

The SoSH thread was then turned into a book that was published to modest acclaim.

With the Celtics firmly in command in the second half last night, thoughts turned to a "Win It For..." thread for old Celts.

Red Auerbach would be featured prominently in any such thread; the new-look Celts, with hard-nosed defense and an unselfish core group of KG, Ray-Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce, would have been appreciated by Red even in today's NBA.

...Johnny Most.

...Reggie Lewis and ...Easy Ed Macauley (the only Celtics with their numbers retired without a World Championship ring; Macauley was traded in 1956 for Bill Russell.)

The wags had some fun with some other memories of Celtics past:

...Acie Earl.

...Todd Day.

...Dino Radja.

...Xavier McDaniel.

But perhaps the most compelling "Win It For..." would be a young man, who 22 years ago tonight, flew back from Boston to his dorm at the University of Maryland, having just been selected as the 'heir apparent' by the then-World Champion Boston Celtics.

Before 9:00am the next morning, Len Bias' dream was gone.

And it took the franchise until last night to get back on top.

Hat tip: AH

Friday, June 13, 2008


Twenty-three years ago, in Game One of the 1985 NBA Finals, the Celtics administered the worst whipping ever in a Finals game to the Lakers. A year removed from the riveting 7-game 1984 Finals, Celtics fans anticipated a quicker resolution, and the opening game gave no reason for doubt. The final score of the "Memorial Day Massacre" was 148-114, but the game wasn't-as-close-as-the-score-indicated.

But a funny happened on the way to the repeat championship (at that time, no team had won back-to-back championships since the 1967-68 and 1968-69 Celtics, and it was seen as an extremely difficult feat; since that time, of course, the NBA has had five(*) different "teams" win six different sets of at least two championships in a row: Lakers (1987, 88); Pistons (1989, 90), Bulls (1991-93), Rockets (1994, 95), Bulls again, (1996-98) and the Lakers with a totally new group (2000-02))

The Lakers rebounded from the humiliation of Game One in 1985, with Kareem Abdul Jabbar (a year removed from the meltdowns(**) in Games Five and Seven in 1984) apologizing to his teammates privately for his 'effort' in Game One. LA went on to win the Championship by beating the Celts in the old Garden in an impressive six games; it was the first time that an opposing team had ever won a championship on the parquet. Kareem reached personal redemption by scoring 36 and 29 points, respectively, in Games 5 and 6 (with the Lakers winning both) on his way to being named Finals MVP.

Fast forward 23 years to last night, as the young Lakers suffered one of the most devastating defeats in NBA Finals history. After building leads of 24 points in the first half, allowing the Celts to slip back into the game late in the second quarter, and then ending the half with a flurry (including a Jordan Farmer running three-pointer as time ran out), the Lakers appeared in control.

As late as half-way through the third, the lead was still at 20, when Doc Rivers went small (House, Garnett, Posey, Allen, and Pierce) and the vise was tightened defensively. By the end of the third, Brown's dunk over Kobe cut the lead to 2, and the Celts were back in business.

The fourth quarter was one of the defining moments in the careers of Pierce, Garnett, Allen (who turned back the clock like Kevin McHale in the 1992 playoffs, with his blow-by (off the dribble, no less) of Sasha Vujacic with 0:16 left), and frankly, Kobe. Four days after famously abusing and embarrassing his teammates during Game Two, Kobe (while going 4-8) disappeared in the fourth; we probably won't hear much more criticism by Kobe on Sunday night.

The Lakers are young, and perhaps thinking of next year when they will add a (presumably healthy) Andrew Bynum and mid-level exception to the mix. Like a freshman-laden NCAA team, they are dreaming of multiple trips to the "Final Four" and are sure that a championship will follow.

The Celts, on the other hand, are laden with the NBA equivalent of fifth-year seniors. KG, Allen, and Pierce have labored in the backwaters of the NBA for the past decade. Their collective moment for redemption -- ironically, like Kareem in the twilight of his career -- is now; don't expect the Lakers to be boarding the plane for Boston on Sunday night.

(*)-The Bulls would win two sets of multiple championships, but both times with squads built around Jordan and Scotty Pippen; the Rockets' inter-regnum was of course during the Jordan gambl-- er, baseball sabbatical.

And speaking of the time Jordan spent with the Birmingham Barons, why would anyone think that the NBA is ever engaged in conspiracies for marketing purposes? Right, David Stern?


Mr. Commissioner, are you there?

(**) - Between 1984 and 1985, the NBA moved from a 2-2-1-1-1 format to a 2-3-2 format, meaning Game Five in 1985 was played in LA, rather than in Boston.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Get To the Rim

Late in the second half of Game Three last night, ABC's Jeff Van Gundy noted that the Celtics might have their best chance to win a game in Los Angeles, as the Lakers were getting almost no contributions from both Lamar Odom (foul difficulties) and Pau Gausol (tough shooting night).

For a while the Celtics seemed to have the lackadaisical attitude that a loss on the Lakers' home floor was no big deal. For much of the first quarter, they were satisfied with settling for long-range jumpers and no offensive rebounds. Kobe, meanwhile, clearly took the attitude that he was going to get all the way to the rim on the Cs, rather than settling for the awkwardly-angle jumpers that -- while often going in -- had not in the two games in Boston. (The hip-checks and moving screens that certain Laker bloggers complained about in Games 1 & 2 were also called against the Cs, with one big one essentially ending the game late in the fourth.) Bryant also was essentially turned into a "rover" on defense, matching-up (not really defending) with Rajon Rondo and literally daring him to shoot the 18-footer.

But with missed layups, foul shots, and some sharpshooting from Ray Allen (the only one of the 'Big 3' who game to play the entire game last night), the Cs hung around the first half, and when Rondo went down with a twisted ankle, forgotten man Eddie House stretched the Laker defense (as Van Gundy quickly noted) and gave Kendrick Perkins and KG room to operate on the low block.

For a brief moment in the fourth, the Cs were in the position to put the game away. But Doc Rivers went with a strange lineup early in the fourth (Powe, PJ Brown, House, Posey, and Allen) and the moment was lost. The Lakers retook the lead on Kobe's wide open three (top of the key) on a broken play, and the Cs never regained their footing. Two Gausol put-backs on Lamar Odom drives proved the point that Van Gundy and others have made time-and-again: when you get to the rim, at any level of basketball, good things happen.

Tactically, the end-game defense was confusing, at best. With two minutes remaining, the Cs ran a double at Kobe (with KG) early in the shot clock; Kobe found Odom at the top of the key, and delivered to a wide-open Sasha Vujacic for a three-ball (sidenote: before this series is over, Vujacic's name will be in the small club of hated Boston-team opponents along with Dennis Rodman and Claude Lemieux). On the succeeding two possessions, the Cs brain-trust left Ray Allen on an island with Kobe, and Bryant made successive 17-footers over Ray-Ray.

While Cs fan-bloggers seem to be rejoicing in the moral victory (after all, it was a true elimination game for the Lakers), Van Gundy's point is real: the Cs had a golden opportunity to end the series, and left it there.

The Cs still look to be the better team, and will likely still win this Series outright. But the Lakers were ready to be put away, and as it has done many times this year, the Cs let a good team off the hook. The Lakers -- like the Cavaliers in the 2nd Round -- know what they are doing at crunch time: getting the ball to Kobe and letting him create.

Finally, could there have been a worse day for the NBA to revisit the Tim Donaghy situation? After Game Two's refereeing disaster, the free throw disparity went to the Lakers (34-22) in Game Three (although admittedly with reason, as the Lakers were clearly driving at the rim throughout much of the first half). But there's no question that the consistency and/or lack thereof among the refs has become a major subplot in the NBA Playoffs.

Donaghy's claims about Game Six of the 2002 Lakers/Kings series and the treatment of Yao Ming in a 2005 Rockets/Mavs series seemed to be backed-up by contemporaneous facts. The Rockets coach Van Gundy was himself fined $100,000 in 2005 for his comments about the officiating, and gave a strange interview with Mike Breen last night at halftime -- on the one hand trying to avoid giving any credibility to Donaghy's statements, but on the other unwilling to admit that he had been wrong in the substance of his comments (he did admit that he "went about it the wrong way" by raising the issue in public.

What is more interesting is the procedural background. Donaghy is apparently up for sentencing (as part of his plea bargain) and the NBA demanded restitution of $1 million for damage incurred by the league by Donaghy's actions. (If Donaghy doesn't have the money to pay the league, his sentence could be extended.)

So after a year where the Donaghy scandal had faded to the background, to be replaced by a "NBA Dream" (and ABC/ESPN Dream) Finals of Lakers/Celtics, the Donaghy matter was revived because the NBA needed to try and collect an extra $1M?

What's wrong with this picture?

Not About "Revenge", Exactly...

The loss of the Democratic nomination has probably not yet set in for Hillary Clinton, and she is likely looking at a period of 'decompression' or worse.

As George McGovern responded to Walter Mondale's question of when a presidential defeat 'stops hurting': "When it happens, I'll let you know."

While Hillary's psyche may take some time to heal, the Clintons are apparently still focusing on who 'betrayed' them during the primary battle. Terry McAuliffe insists that it's not about 'revenge', but rather just keeping track of who helped you and who didn't.

Thank goodness all those fears of reprisals in the event that Hillary squeaked out the nomination (and/or the presidency) were unfounded.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Never a Doubt

Celtics fans should be heartened by last night's win in Game One, especially when one considers that the Cs gave the Lakers every opportunity to steal a win (and home court advantage). Consider these plays:

* With 3 minutes left in the third quarter, on a two-on-one fastbreak, Ray Allen (who has spent the last four weeks throwing his aging body into any opposing player to try and get himself to the free throw line to 'grind' his way out of a shooting slump by manufacturing points), decided to try an around-the-back pass rather than challenge his nemesis, Kobe.

* After doing his best to shoot the Cs out of the game with several brutal attempts in crunch time (including the previous possession), Sam Cassell decided to become a pass-first guy with 0:02 left on the shot clock and 7 minutes left.

* Despite a decided rebound advantage, the Cs gave up two key offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter to Pau Gausol (one with 6:11 left and the Cs clinging to a 4 point advantage, the other a minute later, with the deficit at 6).

* Two separate back-court violations -- which get called once per leap year in the NBA -- both of which may have been influenced by the large icon of the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy which was laid down over the centerline area:
-- In the first quarter, the Lakers' Pau Gausol was called for a back-court violation, although the replay showed that the call should not have been made.
-- In the fourth with 9 minutes left, KG saved a bad pass by taking off just short of the center-court line; although replays confirmed the (non)-call, it easily could have been whistled. The Cs ended up converting on the broken play.

* Ray Allen missed only his 5th foul shot of the entire playoffs (he's shooting 92.9%) with 2:33 left.

Despite all this, and a general lack of ability to 'score the basketball' in the fourth quarter on the part of the Cs, the Lakers couldn't close the deal. As Kobe said after the game, it was a "nice little kick in the ass."

Stay classy, Kobe.

And we'll see you on Sunday, for a game that has now become a 'must-win' for...the Lakers.

With the 2-3-2 format, which is unique for any team sport (excepting baseball, where the home court is not nearly as important as in basketball or hockey), the pressure on the visiting team to 'steal' a game on the road in the first two games is enormous.

With almost no chance to win the Series if they return to Boston for Game 6 with a 2-3 deficit, the Lakers have to either win Game Two, or else win three games in a row in LA (Games 3, 4, and 5).

We'll see if Kobe can convert the bunnies.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Celtics-Lakers, Version 11

For the 11th time this evening, the Celtics and Lakers will meet for the NBA title. A few thoughts.

1. Perhaps only Yankees-Dodgers has the same history and, within that history, definition of distinct eras (Russell-Havlicek/West-Baylor and Bird/Magic). The new era, defined by Kobe and KG will start tonight.

2. The Series could be defined fairly quickly: Can the Celtics control Kobe? Ray Allen (probably briefly), Paul Pierce, and James Posey (probably at crunch time) will all play Kobe for periods of time. The question is whether he can be neutralized, and whether KG (who will be probably chasing Lamar Odom on the perimeter) will be available -- and able -- to give help.

3. Another point-to-watch: do the Lakers try to post-up Rondo? In the Detroit series, a (seemingly injured) Chauncey Billups did not take Rondo down in the post, where he was very effective, at least during the regular season; in the playoffs, Billups ventured down there rarely, if at all. Perhaps Flip Saunders can think about that decision next year.

4. Watching the films from the Bird-Magic era on ESPN Classic over the past few days once again is a reminder of the changes in the NBA since the 1980s. The length of the shorts, the physical size (bulk) of the players), and the pace of the game are all significantly different. On the last point the game was much quicker and end-to-end, although the athleticism of the individuals is obviously (and demonstrably) greater today. But 1980s NBA action ("It's Fannnnn-tasitic"); almost like hockey in comparision to today's over-coached, slow-it-down-and-grind-it-out game.

5. Another significant change: the shape of the stadium. The old Garden was a vertical box where the fans in the front row of the balcony could practically block a high shot. The fan noise and cheers created its own atmosphere, especially when coupled with the lack of air conditioning. In today's Garden (which, like the Staples Center, is a shallow bowl built to maximize the luxury boxes), fan noise disappears into the air; no wonder the Cs have added the video screens and Celtic Dancers.

6. Finally, another difference in the 1980s game: thanks to the NFL-ization of the refs, which has removed seemingly all personality or other discretion from the refs' calls, you won't see another Earl Strom, who 'sold' his calls -- good, bad, or otherwise, with body language.

(Note: Skip to the 1:30 mark of the tape where you can see a rare mental lapse by Larry Bird, failing to identify his man (James Worthy) after a miss down at the other end; commentator Tommy Heinsohn said that it was the only time he had seen such a mental mistake from Bird.)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bad Moose Rising

On August 27, 2007, Mike Mussina was the Yankees' pitcher of record in a 16-0 loss to the Tigers. It was his third straight outing with at least 6 ER and brought his season statistical line to 8-10, 5.53 ERA. After the game. it was announced that Mussina was going to be removed from the starting rotation, in the heat of a pennant race, in favor of Ian Kennedy, who was the proud owner of 149.1 professional innings pitched (all minor league). Somewhat embarrassing for the owner of 247 (at the time) major league wins.

Fast forward to June 4, 2008. In tonight's 5-1 win over Toronto, Moose went 6.0 IP, allowing only 1 run and staying in total command of Blue Jay hitters. Since re-entering the rotation in mid-September last year, Mussina has won 12 out of 17 starts, and he is currently your 2008 American League wins leader with 9.

What changed? Well, besides being more reliant on his softer offerings, which make his 88 mph fastball significantly more effective, and limiting his outings (Mussina is basically a 100 pitch/6 inning guy, whichever comes first), I believe that this is a classic case of psychology in sport. Mussina had lost confidence in his stuff. Now, after making some adjustments, he's back believing in himself again.

So much so that he may give back the title of "Winningest Pitcher Never to Have a 20-Win Season" back to Frank Tanana....